VIMCare: Bringing Hope and Healing to Those in Need

by Kelsey DeClue | Jan 03, 2020

Bev Jackson says without VIMCare, she would still be looking for a doctor for her grandson. Jackson has cared for Robert since he was 7 years old.

Because of his disabilities he qualifies for Medicaid, which has made finding a doctor challenging. 
“It is very difficult to find any doctor that will accept Medicaid,” Jackson said. “We have taken him all over the place to find doctors. We went to Hope and Seymour, and he dreaded the trips. We are just thankful for VIMCare.”

Robert was one of the very first patients at VIMCare after the clinic opened in September 2016.
“Everybody in there is so nice and caring and helpful. They are good listeners and he feels like they are his friends,” Jackson said. “It’s very professional. They take time with you and are really on top of things. It has just been a great experience and I cannot say enough nice things about them.”

VIMCare Clinic, located in Columbus Regional Hospital’s former emergency department space, sees more than 1,500 patients each year. The clinic was founded as a community safety net for those who are uninsured and now also serves the newly eligible Medicaid patients in Bartholomew County receiving health insurance benefits under the state’s HIP 2.0 program. But within the walls of the clinic, so much more takes place.

Making a difference

Amy Baker Hale, M.D., VIMCare’s primary care physician, said many of the patients who visit the clinic are very ill.
“There is a lot of chronic disease management. We are in crisis mode a lot of the time. It’s very challenging,” said Dr. Hale. “Many patients are not insured so they can’t always get what they need. Their situations change a lot.”

Dr. Hale, a graduate of Indiana University School of Medicine, said that she and the VIMCare staff spend a great deal of time with each patient to ensure they get the very best care.  
“We get a lot of people that used to use the ER as their primary care doctor because they didn’t have a doctor. Now they are getting consistent treatment and are doing so much better,” she said. 

One patient in particular demonstrates the impact of their work.
“We had a patient with a chronic lung condition. He was so sick that he could not work. We saw him every two weeks when he started coming. He was so very ill,” Dr. Hale said. “We got him on appropriate medications and now he is working part time and has insurance. He only comes every six months now. He is so much better. When you feel like you are able to help someone, it feels really good.”

Dr. Hale said she loves the challenge of helping each patient find their path to a healthier life. A Columbus native, Dr. Hale served two years in Swaziland as a United States Peace Corps volunteer and worked to provide health screenings to rural Hondurans before starting her work at VIMCare. 
“I really like working with this population of patients,” she said. “I like the challenge and I want to help.”

Kris Abney, VIMCare practice manager, said often times physical health is the least of a patient’s worries. 
“With this population, the need is so huge, but before you even get to that there are so many social determinants to health. Their physical health might be 10 percent of the problem,” he said. “They don’t have money to pay for care and often times, don’t have access to transportation. They might not speak English or may be struggling with addiction or abuse. There is just so much going on in their lives that makes it hard for them to focus on their health.”

Extra Outreach

VIMCare’s Medication Assistance Program helps patients get the prescriptions they need even if they don’t have money to pay for them. MAP staff members help patients apply for assistance through various free and low-cost medication programs. They also work with Bartholomew County township trustees, Love Chapel and various other community organizations to ensure that patients can continue with the necessary medication programs.

In addition to medication, VIMCare collaborates with departments in the hospital to connect patients to lifestyle programs to help patients lead a healthy life.
Through donations from the Columbus Regional Health Foundation, VIMCare patients can benefit from the following: 
Medication assistance 
Mental health and social work services
Chronic disease management
Tobacco cessation counseling
Services for uninsured patients
Services by a licensed clinical social worker and part-time consulting psychiatrist 

Reaching patients where they are

Nelda Sturgill, VIMCare nurse practitioner, said translation services are a major component of care at VIMCare. She can do most basic exams speaking Spanish, but needs help when questions get complicated. She said MARTTI, a digital medical interpreting video conferencing unit, offers translations for 60 languages.
“Even when I attempt to speak Spanish, they appreciate it because someone is trying to talk to them in their language,” Nelda said. “But MARTTI is amazing. I can speak into the unit and it will very quickly interpret it for the patient or vice versa. It has been a tremendous help!”

Another significant hurdle has been getting patients signed up for HIP 2.0. 
“It’s all very confusing and not at all surprising that our patients have a hard time with it,” Dr. Hale said. 
In response to that need, VIMCare hired a staff member to help patients fill out insurance applications and other complicated forms and to help with financial difficulties. 

In her role, Liz Patton, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and former VIMCare care coordinator, helped connect patients with community organizations that offer assistance with things like housing, mental health, recovery, and more.
“Transportation is a big one for us because so many patients miss appointments because they don’t have a way to get here,” Patton said. “Thankfully the CRH Foundation covers vouchers for taxis and HIP 2.0 sometimes covers transportation too. We help coordinate everything.”

Patton moved to another role within the CRH system; however, Sarah Warfield, Patient Advocate Coordinator for VIMCare serves to help patients navigate community resources. 

Advocacy outside clinic walls

Katressa Roberts, VIMCare scheduler, also helps patients with care outside of the clinic. She works with insurance companies to see what they will cover and connects with outside medical offices to schedule specialist appointments for patients. 
“I’m here to make sure they understand the plan of care and to help them stay on track,” Roberts said. “I feel like I’m here to help in any way I can.”
She has purchased calendars for patients and written appointment times on the appropriate pages, programmed phone numbers into a patient’s cell phone, and even put new batteries in one patient’s television remote control.
“A lot of these patients don’t have anyone they can count on. I can’t imagine being alone and being sick and not having the money or access to treatment,” Roberts said. “I like building relationships with them and seeing them start to trust and rely on me. I feel like I’ve helped a lot of patients get better. That is very rewarding.”
Roberts said that patient needs often go beyond medical issues. One winter, she noticed that several patients were coming to the clinic without coats, hats or gloves. In response, Roberts created the “VIMCare Boutique.” CRH staff and community members donate clothing and accessories to the boutique and VIMCare patients can take home anything they need. 
“It started with winter coats and has really snowballed from there. It’s a lot of fun,” Roberts said. “The patients really like it and are very appreciative.”

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